Ralph A. Blessey, Esq. is co-founder and principal of The MARA Search Group, LLC., a legal recruiting firm with offices in New York City, Connecticut and Texas. MARA recruits and places: (1) Partners and Practice Groups; (2) Associates; and (3) In-House counsel. They work on both exclusive retained and contingency searches.
Since establishing his career in the executive legal search field, Ralph has regularly assisted law firm clients in identifying opportunities and evaluating expansion for associate recruiting and partner acquisitions. He has successfully placed attorneys in all practice areas including corporate, real estate, litigation, intellectual property, employment, banking and tax. MARA has made national and international placements in Boston; New York; California; Colorado; Arizona; Connecticut; Washington, D.C.; Brazil; China; Germany; and many other locations. Ralph's business covers law firms and companies throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and South America.
Prior to co-founding MARA, Ralph gained valuable experience serving as a Director of one of the preeminent legal executive search firms in Manhattan following his work as an attorney practicing both litigation and corporate law at the New York office of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo, PC.
He was born in New York City and raised in Westchester County, N.Y. Ralph graduated from John Jay High School and received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Susquehanna University. While studying at Susquehanna, he was a member of the Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, Theta Chi Fraternity, and he played for the men's university soccer team. Ralph earned his Juris Doctor from St. John's University School of Law, where he served as member of the St. John's Law Review. He was also the recipient of a merit-scholarship and he made the Dean's List.
He resides in Connecticut with his wife and two daughters. When Ralph isn't working, or chasing around his two daughters, he enjoys playing tennis, going on long runs, traveling, and sharing a nice bottle of wine with his wife. He is an avid New York Yankees, Knicks, and Giants fan.
Ralph's Successful Career Path and Tips for Legal Recruiters
Does Ralph have a top memory from school? "My top memory from school is the life-long friendships that were made."
What does it take to become a successful legal recruiter? Ralph asserted:
"To be a successful legal recruiter one needs to be persuasive, strategic, patient, responsive, resilient and self-motivated. A successful recruiter needs to be comfortable cold-calling and dealing with rejection without taking it personally. Finally, and probably most importantly, one needs excellent listening skills. If you don't take the time to listen to the goals and needs of your candidates and clients, you'll never have long-term success in this business."
When asked how does he embody these characteristics personally and professionally, he replied:
"I've always felt comfortable interacting and communicating with a broad range of personalities and backgrounds, which has helped me build lifelong relationships. Relationship-building is at the heart of executive recruiting. If you are able to build relationships with clients and candidates and possess the aforementioned qualities you have the foundational skills to be a successful recruiter."
Did Ralph transition into working as a recruiter or was he always involved in the field? He explained:
"I practiced as a litigator and corporate attorney at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C . after graduating from law school. I realized very quickly that I enjoyed the study of law much more than I enjoyed the practice of law. There was a lot of solitude practicing law and a dwelling on small details, which I didn't particularly enjoy. I also found the schedule to be completely unpredictable. I craved a career where I would have more interaction with people on a day-to-day level and a better work-life balance."
What motivated him to work as a recruiter? "I was looking for a profession that would leverage my legal background and utilize my interpersonal skills. Moreover, I wanted something a bit more entrepreneurial than practicing law at an AMLAW 100 law firm. Legal recruiting fit squarely within these parameters so I decided to pursue it as a career."
Ralph discussed what he is known for professionally. "Candidates appreciate my candor and knowledge of the market. Clients appreciate my thoroughness, responsiveness and collaborative nature."
He also discussed his strengths and one weakness as a recruiter. Ralph claimed:
"My strength as a recruiter is my ability to develop relationships with people quickly. Candidates and clients appreciate my market knowledge, thoroughness and candor. As far as weaknesses, as the economy worsened the inflow of emails and calls from candidates looking for career advice has increased exponentially. I like to spend time counseling these candidates that need my help but this isn't the most profitable exercise for my business. I just really enjoy trying to help people."
So what is Ralph's advice to new recruiters? "Focus on the process at the beginning not the results. If you put in the time and develop the right habits at the beginning of your recruiting career, then the results will eventually come."
Considering his eleven years of experience in the legal recruiting industry, many readers may want to know where Ralph sees the legal field in the next five years. "I think there is going to be more consolidation in the industry. More firms are going to move away from lock-step associate compensation in favor of a merit-based system. There will also be more off-track attorney positions. The partnership ranks will decrease significantly as well." He continued to say that there is more partner hiring than associate hiring at the moment. Ralph also noticed that there are more in-house counsels being hired since companies are trying to avoid the high legal fees incurred utilizing the top law firms. Compliance professionals are also in high demand because of the heightened regulatory scrutiny that companies are facing today. He believes that the legal industry has not bounced back to where it was before the recession but is more optimistic than most that things will get better for law firms in the future. It just will require a bit more innovation and flexibility from law firms as the current business model doesn't work.
What does Ralph look for to find the right fit? What makes a great candidate? He acknowledged:
"Every search is different and dictates how we conduct our sourcing efforts. The associate component of our business that services our law firm clientele is the most commoditized as, generally speaking, the focus is on high academic achievement and top law firm training. Our company clientele focuses on those same things but probably places more emphasis on personality and cultural fit. The best in-house candidates are those that have the technical expertise coupled with business acumen. Partner candidates need to be excellent attorneys and must demonstrate a track record of business development. Beyond that, my focus is on whether there is a personality and cultural fit and whether there is a business case for adding the partner candidate to my client's business. The bottom line is you need to spend time at the outset of any search getting to know everything about your client in order to help ensure that you find the 'right fit.'"
In regards to what makes a great candidate, Ralph stated, "A great candidate is one with impeccable academic credentials, marketable legal skills and realistic career goals."
Does he have a recipe for a perfect match? "There is no recipe for a perfect match. Each candidate and client needs to be evaluated independently."
How does the businessman process fear? "In my industry there are many things I simply can't control. I can't control the marketplace and my business is impacted by human behavior which is unpredictable. I try to let go of things I can't control and try to focus on my attitude and effort."
How does Ralph tackle obstacles? "The only way to handle obstacles I know is to tackle them head on. It requires a positive attitude, effort, objectivity and perseverance."
Has he learned something of value from his mistakes? "I always try to learn from my mistakes and do everything in my power not to repeat them."
Where does Ralph derive his confidence? He admitted:
"I learned many lessons growing up playing competitive sports and having success in competitive environments throughout my childhood improved my confidence level significantly. Sports teach you about discipline, teamwork, how to set goals and how to deal with failure, among other things. These lessons have proved invaluable in the professional setting and have given me the confidence to run a business and thrive in the face of unprecedented economic turmoil."
Professional Associations, Guiding People with Their Careers, Admiring Non-Profit Organizations, and Ralph's Passions
Does Ralph hold a membership with any professional associations? "I participate in conferences organized by the National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC) and adhere to their ethical rules."
How does the legal recruiter guide young individuals with their careers? "I regularly counsel and give career advice to recent college and law school graduates as I enjoy assisting young people in the management of their careers. "
Does Ralph admire any non-profit organizations? "I admire St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital and Make-A-Wish Foundation. These two organizations make such a difference in the lives of children dealing with life-threatening conditions."
What causes is he passionate about? "I'm passionate about finding a cure for cancer and support organizations committed to this end."
Ralph's Mentor and Mentoring Others, Facing Obstacles, Quoting The Great One, and Being a Family Man
Does Ralph have a mentor? Is he a mentor? "My parents have had a huge influence in my life. They have taught me the importance of work ethic and responsibility. While I don't have a formal mentor-mentee-relationship, I regularly advise colleagues, former colleagues and competitors that seek my advice on career, business and recruiting related issues."
Has he faced any obstacles in his life? "I've dealt with many obstacles in my life as they are unavoidable. Obstacles are necessary for our learning and growth. I think a positive attitude is required in dealing with any obstacle. You can't control a lot of things in life but you can control your attitude and effort."
Ralph's favorite quote is by Wayne Gretzky: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Why does the quote resonate with him? "I love this quote because it hammers home the fact that you have a chance of succeeding at something only if you try. It is particularly relevant in my business as I tell colleagues often if you don't pick up the phone you have no chance at making a placement. If you don't try you get nowhere."
Ralph was asked what is his number one priority outside of work? "My family is my number one priority outside work. I want my wife and two daughters to be safe, healthy and happy." He added, "My two daughters and my wife mean everything to me and make me laugh on a daily basis. My wife has been a key ingredient to my success in my business. She has always been a sounding board for me when I'm faced with business issues and she has supported me unconditionally throughout my career."
Motivation, a Rewarding Position and Ralph's Goals
What motivates Ralph to be a legal recruiter everyday? "I genuinely enjoy helping clients build their businesses and candidates achieve their professional goals."
Does he find his work rewarding? "On most days, yes. When I'm working with a client that understands the value of a recruiter in the hiring process it is a joy to come to work. Unfortunately, some law firms and companies don't understand how to utilize recruiters and it makes our job difficult to complete and much less rewarding." Ralph continued to say, "I enjoy the consultative nature of the business coupled with the work life balance it affords me."
Does the New Yorker have goals? He said:
"I would like to further build my clientele, expand my business into other markets in the US and abroad and expand my business into temporary staffing. If I continue to provide exceptional service to every client I work with, new clients will continue to come through referrals. I plan on growing in other markets and areas through a combination of organic growth and strategic acquisitions."
What to Expect When Working with Ralph
An IP Partner stated, "I worked very closely with Ralph during my job transition. Ralph was patient, collaborative and strategic throughout the process. I'm very happy with the results and would highly recommend using him if you are interests in exploring other platforms for your practice."
GC of Media Company disclosed:
"I retained Ralph to work on an Associate Counsel search at my company. I found Ralph to be very knowledgeable, efficient and thorough. The candidates he submitted were all on point and the candidate he ultimately found for us has worked out fantastically. I would highly recommend using Ralph on any in-house search. You won't be disappointed."
GC of Medical Device Company noted:
"I engaged Ralph multiple times to assist me in building my in-house team while I was General Counsel of a publicly-traded medical device company. On all of the search engagements I found Ralph to be responsive, collaborative, knowledgeable and hard working. The candidates that he sent all fit within the search parameters and his analysis of candidates was always thorough. He took the time to really vet the candidates and identified their strengths and weaknesses which made for a very efficient interview process. I would highly recommend using Ralph to identify top legal talent. He has his pulse on the market and won't waste your time."
GC of Healthcare Company acknowledged:
"I contacted Ralph to assist me in an assistant general counsel search. The requirements for the position were such that there was only a limited pool of qualified candidates. Before initiating the search, Ralph met with me to get a clear understanding of what I was looking for and the type of candidates who would be the best 'fit' with me and the other members of my department. Armed with that information, Ralph identified several quality individuals within only a few days. After a series of initial interviews with some promising candidates, Ralph and I met again to refine some of the original requirements. At every step, Ralph was engaged, patient and cooperative. He offered meaningful suggestions and proposed alternate strategies in order to maintain the momentum of the search. Ultimately, the individual that Ralph found to fill the position was better than I could have imagined, and after 18 months everyone in my company remains extremely satisfied with the outcome. In fact, I am a little concerned that the person Ralph found for the position will take my job soon, so I am keeping Ralph on speed dial."
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